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Six steps to disaster-proofing your business

By COS staff
| www.cos-mag.com

Organizers of the 20th World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM) says they aim to make sure Canadian businesses are prepared to deal with any emergency or disaster — natural or man-made.??

“Every Canadian corporation – no matter how large or small – needs an emergency plan,” says Chuck Wright, director of the 20th WCDM.

“It’s the first step to preparedness and to developing a mindset that keeps people safe, not only when disaster strikes but in their daily routines as well.”??Today’s companies are faced with an increasing potential for extreme natural disasters, a pandemic and a whole new variety of human-induced threats like cyber crime and terrorism that can cause costly business disruptions.

Statistics show that without a tested emergency preparedness plan in place, up to 86 per cent of small- and medium-sized businesses will fail within three years of a major incident. ??“It’s time for businesses to ask themselves whether or not they want to be a part of that statistic,” says Wright.??

“It’s critical to keep appraised of the advances made in the disaster management field year after year,” said Alain Normand, manager for emergency measures at the City of Brampton and chair of the education committee of the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers.

“The WCDM has been very helpful in enabling me to develop a wide-reaching network of professionals, both in terms of geographic location and in terms of variety of skills, which is key in planning for potential emergencies.”

To help Canadian companies prepare for the expected — and the unexpected — Wright points to the following six key steps for preparedness recommended by the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness (CCEP), presenters of the 20th WCDM:

Know your risks. It is vital to identify and know the risks in your community so your business is able to prepare for all types of disruptions. In addition to obvious hazards like flooding, severe weather and threat of pandemic or terrorism, risks may include: supply chain disruption, staff shortage, power outage, fire, computer or machinery failure, hazardous chemical spill or workers’ strike.

Know the impact. This step involves answering three important questions. What are the key products and services offered by your business? How long can you stop delivering those products and services before feeling an impact? What are the critical inputs (staff, electricity, water, computer, debit/credit card machine) required by your business to deliver your key products and services? Your answers will provide a clearer picture of the overall impact to your business.??

Strategies. For each key product or service identified, develop a strategy for restoring business before your maximum acceptable outage is reached. Strategies may range from cross-training staff, renting equipment, having backup equipment and identifying alternative suppliers, to storing critical information off-site, maintaining computer back-ups off-site, practising manual processes, and contracting out certain services.??

Communications. In this step, your company needs to collect the names and phone numbers for all of the people and organizations it will need to contact for help in an emergency. Where applicable, this list should include the following information: name, organization, office number, cell number, e-mail, fax number and after-hours number.

Plan. This is where you compile the information from steps one to four into one comprehensive document that contains all of the information required for your company’s basic emergency plan. The primary elements of the plan include: contact details, alternate location (if applicable), risks, planning team members, crisis team, key products and services, maximum acceptable outage, critical inputs, strategies and contact lists.??

Review and Exercise. To ensure all employees are aware of the risks, and their roles and responsibilities in the event of a disruption, it’s important to review and exercise the plan. One suggestion is to take 15 minutes at the start of a meeting to go over potential situations, such as an electrical disruption or an explosion, and discuss the response to each one.

Pointing to the World Disasters Report 2009, which calls for an increased focus on “early warning, early action,” WCDM organizers emphasize the need for heightened awareness about emergency preparedness. The report encourages greater use of disaster funding for preparedness in order to reduce the impact of catastrophic events, underscoring the importance of emergency planning for businesses and communities alike, says Wright.??

“Being prepared makes a world of difference before, during and after any emergency,” he says. “It’s a critical step that’s necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone, if and when disaster strikes.”

The WCDM will take place in Toronto from June 6 to 9, 2010, with the theme, Building Solutions for a Global Community: Emergency Management and Business Continuity Working Together.

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